Unethical App of the Year: BuyPartisan

The un-American app at work. Just what we need...more help at being divided.

The un-American app at work. Just what we need…more help at being divided.

One thing we can be sure of in our capitalistic, entrepreneurial culture: if there’s toxic conduct that somebody can make a buck out of facilitating, someone will.

BuyPartisan is a new smartphone app and the inspiration of app developer Spend Consciously. It allows users to receive an instant ideological score on every product, designating the manufacturer or service provider as virtuous or evil, or, as this sick, hyper-partisan, hyper-polarized, disintegrating culture would have it, Republican or Democratic, conservative or liberal.  After the self-righteous, hating-the-other-side-of-the-political-spectrum user scans the bar code on products with his or her phone camera, BuyPartisan (Get it???) accesses campaign finance data and analyzes contributions from the company’s board of directors, CEO, employees and PACs. This allows the happy, political aparthied-loving app user to stick it to any company that doesn’t comport with the user’s narrow, but absolutely right beyond question, view of the world.

Yecch. I want an app that tells me who uses this app, so I can avoid them whenever possible.

Matthew Colbert, the founder of Spend Consciously, told the Washington Post he wants to “empower individuals so that they can make every day like Election Day in how they spend their money.”  How nice. By all means, let’s completely obliterate our tradition of shaking hands after elections, accepting the results, and treating everyone as good citizens who want the same things we do but differ as to how to obtain them. Or as the Post said in an editorial today, “Because if there is something the country needs, apparently, it’s more decisions made based on blind partisan allegiance.”

So now technology is joining the ranks of conservative talk radio, intolerant college faculties, ossified religious authorities, MSNBC, The Daily Kos, Move-on, tea party fanatics, Bill Maher, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, and the rest of those determined to tear the country in two, three, or just shreds, by vilifying, demonizing, shunning and boycotting anyone who doesn’t see the Revealed Truth as they have determined it in the Infinite Wisdom.


When someone develops an app that makes it easier to be compassionate, reasonable, and receptive to new ideas, let me know. Until then, I think I’ll be using two tin cans and a string.



44 thoughts on “Unethical App of the Year: BuyPartisan

  1. You couldn’t be more wrong. The app doesn’t label companies as good or evil. It provides consumers information on a company’s political spending activities. That’s it. Conservatives can use it to avoid George Soros if they like. Democrats can use it to avoid the Koch Brothers if they like. Libertarians can use it for whatever they want.
    That being said, I think there’s definitely a place for you on the Washington Post editorial board.

    • 1. The Post would disagree with you, since I agree with its editorial board on approximately the same schedule as Haley’s Comet.
      2. I guess hyperbole eludes you. Let me be more blunt: the impulse to punish businesses based solely on the political view of their employees and officers is contrary to community comity, a miserable trend, and is based on the misguided confusion of virtue with policy agreement–and that includes punishing George Soros and the Koch brothers for expressing their opinions and trying to encourage policies they approve of. The app aims to divide Americans into homogenous and ideologically inert camps, and if you can’t see why that’s unhealthy for everyone, you are part of the problem. But I wouldn’t boycott your store or product simply because I think your idea of commerce is deadly and destructive, or seek out a way to do it.

      • If anyone’s guilty of dividing Americans into camps, it’s outlets like the Washington Post. Fact is, the divisions are there. The app didn’t cause them and it won’t further them. It’s a consumer spending aid. It’s an informative tool. What decreases ‘comity’ are groups which disingenuously say or act one way whilst quietly spending and peddling influence in another way entirely, especially one contrary to the interests or values of their target demographics.
        The app enables consumers to “reward” businesses just as much as it facilitates any punishment.
        The fact is, this helps consumers make more educated choices. It’s giving people information they value. If you don’t like what they do with that information, take it up with them. There is nothing un-American about this app. There is nothing un-American about informing consumers.

        • “Fact is” the divisions are there, they are making public discourse, societal comity and democratic government increasingly difficult, and the responsible, ethical response is to seek to reverse the trend, not accelerate it. You are making yet another version of the “Everybody Does It” argument.

          The Post’s hyper-partisanship and bias is irrelevant to this matter: the paper can still be right, even if in other respects it is part of the problem–I agree with you, but it’s the equivalent of an ad hominem attack. Criticize the message not the messenger.

          You still don’t get it. There is nothing un-American about giving Americans what they want, unless what they want is to destroy America. It’s not as much of conundrum as it sounds. Explain why it is foolish and wrong, and get them to stop wanting it. The impulse is, in fact, un-American

          • Well, I can understand your sentiment that “you still don’t get it” because I share that sentiment. What you don’t seem to get is the simple reality that just because a tool can be used for unethical purposes does not make that tool unethical in itself. This is a tool that can be used by Americans who want to save America just as easily as anyone else. And while I agree that destroying America is un-American… I can’t say the same for providing Americans with tools they could use to destroy America.

            • Alex, the tool is designed to do only what is unethical. Boycotts for political beliefs are unethical. Punishing businesses for their employees and owners exercising their rights under a democracy is unethical.

              You don’t save America by dividing it into intolerant, punitive camps. You don’t save American by punishing pluralism, democracy, and political speech. Your position is untenable.

              • Boycotts for political beliefs are unethical? Really? That’s quite a blanket statement. Donald Sterling would strongly agree with you I’m sure. Very tenable.
                In this case, the tool is designed to give consumers information. That’s it. There’s an actual app called buycott that’s specifically divisive. BuyPartisan doesn’t encourage partisanship, it reveals the partisanship already present in our commerce. If you don’t like what you see when the lights are turned on, maybe focus on helping clean it up instead of trying to smash the light so you can continue ignoring the root cause and impotently cursing the dark.

                  • Can I tell Alex that there’s a difference between beliefs and actions? That the whole idea of due process is based on actions rather than feelings?


                    I agree with you Jack, full stop, on this. I’ve found many people who are bipartisan agree on big picture stuff, yet disagree on some nuances and particulars. If we continue to cordon off people who disagree on something like percentage points rather than guiding principle, we are, as you say, disintegrating into a dismal morass.

                  • Jack,

                    How can you distinguish ethically, though, between a boycott as an organized action and a “conspiracy of consensus” for which action is unorganized, or loosely organized, but has the same effect as a boycott?

                    If somebody thinks a certain product or service should not be purchased for some reason that is less directly related to the product and more directly related to the producer or seller, how can you say some ethical line has been crossed if one would-be consumer exhorts and successfully persuades multiple other would-be consumers to make the same choice?

                    Isn’t boycotting merely one way to exercise good consumer citizenship, in the same way that, say, businesses that advertise and sell products which are “slave labor-free” are exercising good corporate citizenship?

                    The way I am reading you, you seem to think it was OK when Jackie Robinson threatened to leave the filling station without purchasing a fill-up there for his team’s bus (until the station owner relented and let the men use the restroom), but you would tut-tut Jackie for being unethical if he contacted all the other teams and urged them not to buy fuel for their buses at that same station, for the same reason.

              • Were the boycotts of the Civil Rights Movement unethical? (Hint…it’s a rhetorical question, unless you’re racist. Though I guess being racist is pretty “American” nowadays).

                • Boycotting is usually a punitive, coercive, undemocratic tactic, always when it involves speech, only rarely not when outrageous conduct is involved and there is no other way to combat it.

                  I would not expect anyone to appreciate these gradations who thinks it’s appropriate to ask a question and announce that anything other than the proscribed answer indicates racism. This signature significance proof of clinical jerkdom. My sympathies.

                  • Just noticed that you also violated the comment guidelines and used a fake e-mail address, too, proving that my assessment was correct…signature significance triumphs again…and also that my diagnosis was too kind.

  2. “So now technology is joining the ranks of conservative talk radio, intolerant college faculties, ossified religious authorities, MSNBC, The Daily Kos, Move-on, tea party fanatics, Bill Maher, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, and the rest of those determined to tear the country in two, three, or just shreds, by vilifying, demonizing, shunning and boycotting anyone who doesn’t see the Revealed Truth as they have determined it in the Infinite Wisdom.”
    You were maybe thinking technology would buck the trend?
    Whatever would make you think any such thing?

  3. Jack,

    Instead of saying “I’m sorry,” I must say with sardonic glee, “I like it.”

    I like it because it helps to fulfill the ideal that everything that is political is personal, and everything that is personal is political. Imagine (beyond John Lennon): ALL commerce, ALL human transactions, beholden to politics. I LOVE it! Life, politicized most purely! No more pesky, archaic ethics and Golden Rule-practicing to worry about…AHHH!

    But, I deliberately avoid using smartphones. So, the app won’t work for me.

    Still, knowing of the app (it will be a most effective boycott-enabling tool! HOORAY!), and knowing of how use of it and its successors will inevitably permeate and serve as the new Invisible Hand directing the fortunes and future of all of society, compel me to redouble my efforts on my every purchase of goods and services, such that I shall purchase ONLY from those suppliers who I deem worthy of being in business, and worthy of not being harassed and intimidated out of business, and worthy of being alive instead of being most expeditiously and horrifically terrorized and dispatched to their demise by sabotage, scam, riot, regulation or Executive Order. This is the dawning of a Golden Age of the ONLY form of capitalism that deserves to exist: Crony Capitalism.

    And, I shall redouble my every endeavor to deliver goods and services which result from MY labors ONLY to those customers who I deem worthy of benefitting from what I have to give and produce. After all, I would NEVER want ANY “Republican” or “Democrat” to be enriched, or to have his life made more pleasant, extended, or continued one moment longer because of ANYTHING I thought, said or did.

    Again, imagine: Picture the emergent, perfectly binary world. You either win, or you lose; prosper, or fail; luxuriate in opulent pleasure, or agonize in torturous poverty; live, or die. All you have to do is be correct – think, say, and do all the right things. Come on! It isn’t that hard to be correct. Media and academia (with few exceptions) are beaming more brilliantly than ever the light of correctness for all to see. Just see – and follow. And if you don’t see, well, just follow, anyway – it’s in your best interests to do so.

    Don’t fight it, Jack. Roll with it! Update your ethics, and embrace the brave new world!

    (Don’t you DARE come back with that delusional appeal, “Meds, dude, MEDS!” It is *I* who is healthy, and *thee* for whose healing I pine most hopefully.)

      • Alex agrees with my sarcasm. Or, maybe his sarcasm and mine agree. But so far, I have not seen FDA approval of sarcasm-suppressing drugs. So my choices are either to remain unmedicated, or to break the law to be medicated (if appropriate meds exist). Dang! Now I have to go check the DSM to see what it says about sarcasm.

  4. I was always curious who was the primary donation recipient of the Colt AR-15 HBAR was.

    Yeah, there’s politics and there’s the free market. The app seems to try to skew the free market which should be based on value propositions into one based on political leanings (which are arguably another source of value, but not in the way we mean market value). Anything designed to needlessly skew the market is suspect in my book.

    On the other hand, such an app may very well finally show the truth to stupid uneducated voters who buy everything the Left says about Big Business being the only thing Republicans stand for and Republicans being the only thing Big Business stands for; that is to say, Big Business is just as in bed with the Left.

  5. The developer of the app gives users a tool to use to wield against those that are not in political harmony with the user. So too does the arms dealer that does not care to whom it sells its weapons.

    Here is my question to all that feel that this is such an empowering tool: How do you reconcile boycotts of businesses that do not comport with your way of thinking if businesses are not permitted to decide who they wish to serve based on the potential customer’s political and ideological leanings?

    What if the holders of most of the wealth decided to only serve whites. Would that please you as much as when non-whites choose to buy only from businesses owned and operated by other members of their community/ How would minorities fare in competing for capital to raise their standard of living? Will the developer of the app be willing to make his new found wealth available for them?

    What this app does is to facilitate economic blackmail. It is the digital equivalent of social activists (agitators) Jackson and Sharpton.

    If you want to change minds then you must offer a compelling argument that gives people a reason to leave the quite comfort of their current understanding. You work to get people to walk toward you rather than to demand obedience as you march them forward to your end.

    What I have found in life is that when anyone claims to have all the right answers, he/she has rarely thoroughly thought through the host of compelling reasons for a competing point of view. It is the synthesis of points of view that lead to positive lasting change.

  6. I can’t tell the difference between this app and a boycott campaign, except that this is a boycott on steroids. But refusing to patronize a merchant because you don’t like something he is doing outside of the stream of commerce, or outside of his individual transaction with you, is an ancient practice. In theory, capitalism is a neutral system, but capitalism was created by humans (even the Kochs and the Waltons), and therefore it has all the human quirks and foibles and prejudices, as well as being an outlet for naked aggression sometimes. Reacting to another’s human behavior is natural and acceptable. Now I’ll really go out on a limb. All this app does is provide information, and what you do with the info is your business.

    • Does the merchant get the same capability to refuse service to a patron he or she does not like? Would you advocate disclosing your voting history as a condition of employment. Reacting to another’s human behavior is natural and acceptable.

      Exactly how does this app tell me about the political beliefs of Sue the drycleaner or Alex the guy who changes my oil? It does not because it cannot. Only large publically traded organizations must share data which is what is being.

      So you start your boycott on steroids because you get this information. Sales begin slump and the firm starts to layoff people. People that may share your point of view get hurt economically but work for the guy you want to inflict damage upon simply opens an plant overseas to gain foreign market share to make up for what is lost here. Sounds like a great plan.

      • I should have put quotes around my use of Jay’s sentence “Reacting to another’s human behavior is natural and acceptable.”

  7. As I’ve considered this more, I have a question – what donations does this app track? If it tracks individual donations made from money received AFTER payday, then it is no one’s business who receives the donation, that goes for CEO’s, Boards of Directors, and down to the lowliest employee. What they do with their money is their business and therefore the app is a partial invasion of privacy for the employees and a very close to full invasion of privacy of Boards of Directors, and an invasion of privacy for CEOs.

    However, I can see an argument for budget disclosure (and I am almost a fan of the idea) for what companies do with their non-business related money. What do they do with money that doesn’t cover overhead, payroll, or reinvestment?

    If you want to declare it unethical for shoppers to discriminate sellers based on who they give money too, then you are compelling shoppers to unknowingly donate to a cause they may believe to be unethical. If we find compelling companies to pay for insurance that includes practices and procedures the company believes to be unethical (and we ought to), then we ought to see the same from the other direction that companies are compelling buyers to donate to causes they may believe to be unethical.

    Yet, that would be alleviated with disclosure, and a buyer can make their value judgments then. Further, the disclosure shouldn’t be just political donations, but any Charitable or Civic Philanthropy in which the company engages.

    I don’t like this app because it seems to disclose what ought to be private information; but the concept of a buyer knowing what they are buying is completely in the spirit of the free market – and if I buy a cup of coffee, of which 5% of the money goes to CAIR, then I’m not just buying a cup of coffee, I’m also buying support of an organization I feel corrupt and destructive…

  8. Jack, this is the free market at work. This is how we buy and always have done so. This is just a more convenient way. I try to buy American whenever I can — in fact, I just bought a car with a US-based corporate HQ. Am I discriminating against foreign-made cars? I guess so — but it’s my money and I get to decide where tens of thousands of dollars go.

    I won’t use this app because I question its methodology and accuracy, but I have researched companies in the past before making large purchases.

    And given that corporations have the right to make political donations, it is every consumer’s right (and arguably duty) to give money to corporations who support similar candidates/causes or are at least neutral. It is part and parcel of being an informed and engaged citizen. My ethics are not necessarily your ethics, but that doesn’t mean I am wrong.

    And look at me and Tex agreeing. Wow.

      • Buying American, just because it is American is a stupid policy.

        If your goal is to improve America, you’d do good to buy foreign if the foreign product IS superior, therefore motivating the American producer to improve his product.

        THAT is actually an American way to buy.

        • Except that Americans have been brainwashed into regarding some foreign products as superior when they aren’t. Recall that I helped found an American plays-only theater company in the nation’s capital in part because the other theaters were dong more Shakespeare, Moliere, Chekov, and Brecht than O’Neill, Williams and Miller.

          • Yes, but I stipulated buying American just because it is American is a dumb policy. If the American product is superior (and often is) then buy it because it is superior. I do acknowledge there are elitist forces present in our society that are generally disdainers of our culture who advance the notion that American means shoddy. They are dumb also.

            • Then there is the matter of cheating. Should Americans buy even superior products from foreign companies whose governments use unethical and inequitable trade policies to place the US at an unfair competitive disadvantage? I’d argue that we should not.

              • Yep. Foreign policy. I’ve long argued that our relations with other nations should be directly proportionate to how much we culturally/politically match those other nations. If it isn’t a Commercial Republic? We shouldn’t engage in free trade with them, of course, I contend that free markets inherently produce better quality than do controlled or slave markets.

                I won’t allow my financial advisor to invest in China even though says I could make a killing.

    • Child porn and human trafficking is also the free market at work. So are term paper mills. I don’t think that’s any argument or justification for anti-social or harmful products and services. That was the Five Families’ rationalization for organized crime in The Godfather, you’ll recall.

    • Wait…I stipulated that if this app reveals what people do with their own private paychecks, then it is an unethical breach of privacy.

      If the app reveals what a company does with its non-payroll, non-reinvested profits, and non-overhead expenses, then I think it’s fair for a buyer to know, because then the buyer is no longer buying JUST the material good or service, but something in addition.

  9. This isn’t new. There is an app out there (and has been for some time) called 2nd Vote. It gives companies a score based on how many conservative policies they seem to support. I’ll give the folks at 2nd Vote this: They don’t make the tiniest pretense of being bipartisan. If a company follows causes or policies that are near and dear to a conservatives heart, they get a high score; if they skew left, they get a low score, and 2nd Vote doesn’t pretend otherwise. That’s some small consolation, I suppose but, in general, I agree with your view, Jack. The partisan divide in the country is wide enough and bitter enough without everyone basing their buying decisions based on which side of the gap they and various companies stand on. If a local car dealer gave a contribution to Sheila Jackson Lee, a small part of me would tempted to take my custom elsewhere (Sheila, please stop talking. Anywhere. Just stop. You’re embarrassing all of us.) I would be tempted but, ultimately I would follow the market and buy the car I thought represented the best combination of price, handling, features, etc. I might surrender to my lesser impulses so far as telling the owner that I thought he could find better outlets elsewhere for his campaign donations, but I would still be willing to buy his cars, in general. Or so I hope.

  10. As usual, I don’t object to the existence of this product, but I do object to the plague of character flaws that it capitalizes on (because I’m nuanced like that). Like most products, this app facilitates a certain behavior. In this case, it increases the ease with which a person can throw money at their chosen political parties (and avoid throwing money at other parties.)

    The underlying problem is not a problem with the app itself, but rather that people throw money at their political parties in order to help them succeed instead of (rather than in addition to) holding their parties accountable for bad character, disrespect, and unethical behavior, and instead of investigating the concerns of the people who disagree with them to see if they have any validity. Let’s face it, when two opposing groups of people channel resources to their parties in the hopes of stirring the emotions of the people who just don’t care enough to have strong inclinations towards one or the other (as opposed to those of us who consciously despise both platforms because of all the terrible stuff tied up with the reasonable stuff) instead of talking to each other and figuring out ways they can both get what they want (or whether what they want is even a good idea), there’s bigger problems than people making money off of those problems.

    Questioning whether you’re right is hard. Admitting you’re wrong is hard. I eventually became relatively comfortable with both of these. However, for many people, surrounded by others who are on the same page, and with the people on other pages so far away, such introspection is in many ways like tearing off your skin. It’s painful, and it risks a loss of identity. Not that there aren’t benefits to letting go of an identity, but it’s something that people fear.

    As to the compassion, reason, and receptive-to-new-ideas app, the first thing that comes to mind is an app that activates when you read a news story and finds a story on the same subject with an opposing bias. The first instinct that anyone should have when they read something that promotes a point of view (especially a piece that lacks nuance, mitigating factors, or contingencies) is to read something opposing to balance it out with facts and possibilities that the first piece failed to mention.

    The second thing that comes to mind is something that plays “Angels or Demons?” by I Fight Dragons every time you read a news story.

    • That’s utter crap, and a part of the no-accountability game desperately clung to by Obama apologists. Opposing policies you think are bad is the job of every opposition party. There’s no tantrum. Just a lot of irresponsible rhetoric on both sides, magnified by incompetent politics

      But you are right in one vital respect—the last six Presidential elections should have ended with bi-partisan commitment to make things work, and did not. Instead, both parties have effectively strained the seams of the national unity by promoting divisiveness as a way to get votes in the next election. This stupid app wants to institutionalize that approach, nationwide, for all time.

  11. Tin cans and string — really? Really? Like the anti-corporate Occupy protesters used…….ipads??
    That silliness aside — how in the world could you possibly call it a product “unethical” that actually makes it easier for people to put their money where their ethics suggest they should? That is disingenuous at best.

    • You should cut back on the red wine when you come here—the cans were a reference to technology exacerbating toxic trends, hence I was…oh, never mind. Nothing worse than having to explain a minor joke…that had nothing to do with “Occupy,” by the way. I’ll include a joke footnote next time. (Oh, see, that reference to red wine at the start of this comment was a light-hearted reference to your “name”…and by the way, you owe me your real one if you want another comment here. Check the commenting rules.

      And you get a demerit for the blog crime of making an argument about a post that ignores the post. I explained why boycotting companies based on the personal political choices of employees and management was unfair and divisive, and thus NOT what ethics suggests. You can argue with that analysis, but you can’t begin with the premise that the opposite is settled.

  12. Pingback: 3 Reasons to Download the App BuyPartisan Now | Groundswell

  13. If I want to know the facts concerning an entity’s views and actions in the public arena so that I may or may not choose to do business with them, that is my choice, period!

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